Thursday, November 14, 2013

16. The Kayan People: "Long-neck Karenni tribe"

Ban Nam Piang Din:  30 km

It is a pleasant ride on narrow rural roads out of Mae Hong Son, there is almost no traffic, from time to time a scooter with local farmers comes by. In this area of the forest it is a good idea to lower the helmet visor, since one gets hit sometimes by bugs the size of a baby fist.

The road then turns off towards the river Pai, changing from potholed asphalt to compacted dirt. The dirt path dead-ends at the river where a motorboat provides a passage across to the small village.

The river carries much water, the rainy seasons just has past, and the current is quiet strong. I had first thought that I could traverse on the motorcycle, but that is not an option at all.

The tribe of the Kayan who are famous for their women wearing long brass coils around the neck consists in this region of about 800 people. They originate from Burma and are refugees in Thailand, not very welcomed here, yet tolerated. Unsubstantiated claims by Thais accuse the Karen for illegally logging precious woods in the forest; the claims are mostly false. 

For the Thai government it clearly is a disgrace that they refuse to issue Thai identity cards to the Kayan people. Without an ID-card, kids are not admitted to schools.

(Under the corrupt Thaksin administration government funding for schools with less than one hundred students was terminated as well. This means that in the rural parts here the smaller schools don't have money for books and provisions, but more importantly, for lunch for the students, preventing them from getting an education. Thaksin's sister is currently his successor, he lives in exile to avoid prosecution. The large scale demonstrations in Bangkok at this very moment to remove the Thaksin clan from power are undergoing. Here in the countryside none of this can be felt.)

There are more Kayan living in larger refugee camps but from what I heard they are required to remove the coils before residing in the camp. Some Kayan girls also leave the village to pursue a career and education beyond the tribe, and in all such cases the traditional coils are removed.

The young girls start wearing the coils when they are about five years old. Each year in their life a longer coil replaces the old one. By an age of about 25 the muscle structure in the neck region is seriously weakened, so that the coils are typically not removed any longer. The brass also causes permanent skin damage (coloration).

Many theories exist why the women wear the coils. Is is for beauty (men have shorter necks than women), or protection (There is a vague theory that men offered the metal protection to their wives against tiger attacks while away in the fields during the day, think "Siegfried and Roy")? When I asked a Kayan girl in the village she told me that it isn't because of beauty. It is simple their culture. But maybe she didn't understand what I was asking, and I didn't understand her response.

At any rate: 
I found the girls and women in this village who are predominately craftspeople, weavers, and textile dyers, to be oft great beauty, and of an utmost quiet friendliness. It seems that they are very happy, and very relaxed and don't mind me as a tourist. It was a most pleasant visit there; I could have stayed longer.

One sees some photovoltaic panels in the village, also accompanying large truck batteries which I saw in Mae Sot being brought to Thailand for recycling. I hiked all the way to the end of the village on the hill; the village consist mainly of one street, houses made of wood to the left and right. There is no cell phone coverage.

On the hill is a concrete block masonry toilet building, a community building with an open air classroom, and another small building which I couldn't identify.

Thanaka cream on cheeks.

Not all women wear the brass rings

Good concept for kitchen utensil storage: safe from the critters, and save from mud (in case of a sudden heavy rain shower)

The old women wears extensive coiling also around the legs, not the case with the younger girls.

Most likely it is possible to cross the river on motorcycle in the dry season, staring in January.

The Thanaka creams smells very pleasant, maybe similar to a men's aftershave.

The village Ban Nam Piang Din; a photovoltaic panel on the roof to the right.

What a most pleasant and impressive visit. Since I will stay here in Mae Hong Son a little longer, I may go back. It is just a short ride, and a motorboat crossing.

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